A version of this story on Roger Deakins first ran in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.
Roger Deakins now has more cinematography nominations without a win than anyone in Oscar history. “Blade Runner 2049” marks his 14th nod. And it’s not as though the movies he’s lost for, including “Fargo,” “The Shawshank Redemption” and the Best Picture-winning “No Country for Old Men,” have been completely snubbed by the Academy. It would seem he’s long overdue.
“You say that, but I don’t really agree,” said Deakins. “I don’t subscribe to that ‘overdue.’ Some of the greatest work is never appreciated, so from my point, it’s wonderful to be appreciated over the years.”
For one, Jordan Cronenweth never got an Oscar (he was nominated once), and he shot the original “Blade Runner.” Deakins admires that film’s memorable noir look, but he and director Denis Villeneuve aimed to have 2049 stand on its own.
“I think the only way I paid respect to Jordan’s work is I didn’t try to mimic it in any way,” Deakins said. “I did not light like Jordan lit. I’m not Jordan Cronenweth. I talked to Denis about it, but he said it was a film to stand by itself.”
The new film is a visual marvel. Deakins staged a fight scene to the neon-lit backdrop of a holographic Elvis Presley stage show that recalls his work on “Skyfall.” He turned the Vegas strip into a burnt orange hellscape. And he bounced rippling waves of light from a reflecting pond onto the walls of the villain’s lair to make a dreamily ominous fortress.
Asked how many of the effects were captured in-camera without the aid of CGI, Deakins said, “You’d be surprised both ways, really. I think that’s a lot of the fun of my job. And there’s something about doing it in camera that’s a reality you don’t get with a computer, no matter how good the work is.”
And though he worked on a far smaller budget and with more technical limitations back on one of his earliest films, an adaptation of George Orwell’s “1984,” Deakins said the challenge of finding ways to visualize these moments in-camera is the same.
“It’s just a matter of scale,” Deakins said. “I was just talking with someone else about the night time storm sequence on the sea wall at the end. I certainly hadn’t shot anything quite like that, such an extended scene with actors in the water and crashing waves at night. But you just figure it out.”
Deakins used this blend of in-camera visuals with the artificial to poignant effect during a “threesome” scene among two real characters and a holographic one. Deakins explained you would’ve never been able to replicate the exact lighting on an actresses face if one of them was filmed in front of a green screen. So his team filmed two actresses in the same light without a green screen, then rotoscoped one actress out and laid her image on top of the other to a beautifully imperfect effect.
“It’s the simplicity of doing it that way that makes it successful and believable,” Deakins said. “You have a picture of what you want, and it’s work, work, work to try and create it.”
Go here for more from the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap Oscar Magazine.